The Instagram machine has once again waved its scythe, this time in a bid to cut down mental-health issues associated with social media.
In May, Instagram began a trial, in Canada, where it removed visible counts of likes for audiences on the platform. This testing has since moved a step closer to us, in Japan, Australia and New Zealand, with mixed reception observed from the media, social-media users and influencers. If all goes well, the test or eventual activation will probably reach the rest of Asia.
However, it’s not yet time for marketers to hit the panic button.
Gone are the days where the determinant of success for influencer-marketing activity, or even the selection of influencers, was the number of likes on a post.
Having likes on an Instagram post does not mean the brand has an increased brand perception, a bigger following, or an increase in sales. In fact, followers may just like a post because of visually pleasing aesthetics. Likes can be one of the indicators of a post’s reach or success, but not a campaign metric to be relied solely on.
Instead, marketers should focus on parallel metrics like customer acquisitions, traffic to landing pages/websites, online mentions and brand uplift after an influencer-marketing campaign. These provide the marketer with a better handle on the business and bottom-line impact an influencer-marketing campaign can have.
Instagram is still one of the dominating platforms for influencer and social-media marketing, with features for shopping on posts, IGTV for longer-form content and reviews, and more. Furthermore, even though this test update has hit headlines worldwide and has marketers second-guessing their influencer-marketing plans, the most highly engaged feature of Instagram, ‘Stories’, already functions in essentially the same way as the test update. Viewed figures of a ‘story’ can only be seen by the user that posted the content.
Expanding focus, marketers in Asia also have varied considerations to make based on local social-media habits—from platforms like TikTok and Line, to Chinese social-media platforms, to YouTube and the quiet rise of Telegram, each market in Asia has different platform adoption and usage rates.
The recent removal of publicly visible likes on Instagram is definitely not a death knell for one of the leading mediums for influencer marketing.
Evolved influencer marketing
At the same time, we need to take a step back and look at influencer marketing again: it has existed in some form or another for some time—from customer stories and case studies, to paid celebrity endorsements and keynote speakers.
The key change is the evolution of media in which influencers are able to tell their stories. These days, we’re prone to connect influencer marketing predominantly with social media. But we need to go back to the whole premise of influencer marketing, which is for a business to leverage a vehicle to influence audiences to take a certain action.
This vehicle, at least in the past few years, has become a race from content creators to grab a large audience or number of likes. But does it really matter to a marketer’s or marketing department’s value to the business? These are just easy-to-obtain metrics to justify spend on influencer marketing. However, when business value is not obtained after prolonged efforts, the marketer deems influencer marketing a failure.
What we will start seeing though, is an increased call for deeper data about content creators—including follower affinity and content creator brand and cause affinity—especially when appointing influencers or brand advocates.
This provides marketers with a two-pronged benefit. It will reduce influencer-marketing fraud and transparency issues—as content creators are no longer able to just rely on buying or using tactics to inflate the number of likes and followers. It will also drive more authentic brand conversations and connections with audiences.
Although Instagram hiding visible like counts is a major move from one of the most dominant platforms for influencer marketing, it is a move in the positive direction—not just for mental wellness, but also for the influencer marketing industry in general. In fact, I am sticking my neck out to say that this is the turning point for influencer marketing.
Kosuke Sogo is the CEO and co-founder of AnyMind Group.